Terrorism: Helping Communities Heal (Part 2)
A FEMA/CMHS-funded program called Project Phoenix is attempting
the same feat in the nine New Jersey counties most affected by the
Home to many who commuted across the Hudson River to the World
Trade Center, New Jersey suffered many direct losses when the World
Trade Center towers collapsed. As a result, Project Phoenix provides
outreach and crisis counseling to widows' groups, older people
who lost adult children in the attacks, and children who lost their
parents. When people need more traditional mental health services,
crisis counselors refer them to the public mental health system
or the New Jersey Psychological Association.
Project Phoenix is trying to accommodate other groups as well.
Disaster coordinator Gladys Padro, M.S.W., of the Division of Mental
Health Services in the New Jersey Department of Human Services in
Trenton, said "We were kind of overrun with requests from
employee assistance programs at corporations that were in New York
but relocated to New Jersey, for example." The large Latino
population that worked in the restaurant industry in New York needs
help. So do the families of military personnel at the state's
military bases. Even commuters face additional stresses, because
the disaster disrupted train service into the city.
Several new initiatives are being developed. For example, the
project is working with a science center and several local junior
leagues to put together an overnight program that would offer adolescents
fun activities during the day and group counseling in the evening.
A daytime program would offer similar services to younger children.
The project is also working with the department of education to
plan a workshop that would help teachers learn how to talk to children,
identify signs of children in trouble, and avoid "compassion
fatigue." There are plans to train a group of service providers
to respond to the special emotional needs of emergency personnel.
In addition, the project sent crisis counselors to a family assistance
center the Governor established in Jersey City's Liberty State Park
just across the Hudson River from Ground Zero. Crisis counselors
even escorted family members on the boat ride from the park to the
World Trade Center site, providing emotional support and education
during these traumatic visits by family members to pay homage and
seek closure at the site where their loved ones died. After 6 months
of service to thousands of family members, the center finally closed
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Virginians are also experiencing what disaster mental health coordinator
Bill Armistead, M.P.H., calls an "ongoing event." The
attack on the Pentagon was only the first trauma to hit northern
Virginia, he pointed out. Next came the threat of anthrax-contaminated
mail. Then came economic disaster as tourists and convention-goers
cancelled their plans to visit nearby Washington, DC.
The area's large immigrant population faces additional stressors.
A relatively large Muslim population suffered retaliatory hate crimes,
while the attack reawakened memories of war-torn homelands for the
area's many Southeast Asian, Latin American, and other immigrants.
Simply living in the area can produce anxiety, said Mr. Armistead,
a senior planner in the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental
Retardation, and Substance Abuse Services in Richmond. "If
you've seen that symbols have been attacked, and you're
commuting back and forth past those symbols every day, that can
be pretty tough," he explained. "When you add in the
CIA, the Norfolk Naval Base, and other Federal Government and military
sites in the area, it can feel like you're sitting right on
top of a bull's eye."
Helping Virginians handle the stress of all these traumatic events
is the goal of the FEMA/CMHS-funded Community Resilience Project.
The project targets the 1.8 million Virginians served by the five
community services boards in northern Virginia. Supplemental funds
from SAMHSA will help the state meet the increased demand for traditional
mental health and substance abuse services in the long run. That
assistance is especially welcome in the face of the budget cuts
the local community services boards faced as the local economy soured
in the weeks after the attack.
Northern Virginia's enormous ethnic diversity has made outreach
efforts challenging, said Mr. Armistead. For example, the project
has had to translate public service announcements and other materials
into a variety of languages.
But there are other difficulties as well, said Mr. Armistead.
"In our culture, if I look you in the eye when I'm talking
to you it would indicate that I'm telling the truth,"
he explained. "In the Muslim culture, especially if it's
a male to female conversation, I should avert my eyes because otherwise
it would appear that I'm staring at you rudely."
Like the other FEMA/CMHS-funded projects, the Community Resilience
Project tries to avoid such problems by hiring indigenous crisis
counselors who can adapt their outreach techniques to suit their
Crisis counselors have also worked to multiply their effect by
reaching out to clergy members, physicians, and others who may come
in contact with people who need help. For example, crisis counselors
and their supervisors from the community services boards have offered
training designed to teach primary-care physicians how people respond
after disasters and where they can get additional help.
"In traditional mental health, you have a clinic and people
come to it for help," said Mr. Armistead. "That's
not going to happen in a disaster. Members of the public aren't
going to come out and say they need help. You have to go out to
For more information about disaster relief and mental health, contact
SAMHSA's National Mental Health Information Center at at P.O. Box
42557, Washington, DC 20015. Telephone: 1 (800) 789-2647 or (866)
889-2647 (TDD). Or visit SAMHSA's Web site at www.samhsa.gov.
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